On the terrace outside, Griffon tuned up doggedly as the traffic sped by along the dual-carriageway. His recent acquisition of an electronic tuner barely seemed to make the process any less laborious. As he adjusted his capo and twiddled stubbornly uncooperative tuning pegs, navigating the murky microtonal waters between D sharp and E, his mind was on the gig ahead. As usual, he felt under-rehearsed and under-confident, worried about fluffing his words and muffing his chord changes. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and without a band behind him to bolster the arrangements, he often felt exposed. There was nowhere to hide when things went pear-shaped, which they frequently did. That said, experience had taught him what to expect from this venue. A third of the audience would spend most of the set chatting away to their friends. Another third would be mostly texting. Of the remaining audience members who at least gave the impression that they were listening, Griffon wondered how many were actually paying him their full attention. He consoled himself with the thought that whatever he sang and played, it would always be filtered through the senses of each listener and experienced uniquely. That was the great wonder of art, he mused absent-mindedly. It was as if each individual had his or her own personal frequency, just like a tuning fork. What resonated perfectly with one person left another completely unmoved. Griffon sometimes thought of his songs as a mirror held up to the world – or even the wider cosmos – reflecting back what it saw before it in words and music. What got reflected back was unpredictable. Sometimes it was beautiful and magical. Sometimes it was ugly and cynical. Sometimes it was hazy, kaleidoscopic or fragmented. Compounding this filtered reality, each member of the audience carried their own mirror, cracked, flawed and imperfect, which refracted and distorted the original image, often to such a degree that it was barely recognisable. That seemed an inescapable, but oddly reassuring reality.
‘Hey.’ Griffon glanced up and glimpsed Megan as she sashayed past him and disappeared into the gloom of the bar. The coolly polite response to Griffon’s support set would almost certainly be in stark contrast to that elicited by Megan. Megan was the one the crowd had come to see. When Megan sang, everyone suddenly sat up and listened - as if a magic spell had been cast upon them. Phones would be hastily put away. Conversations would abruptly tail off. Megan possessed the kind of charismatic stage presence that held the audience’s rapt attention. There was something about her voice that demanded to be heard. It wasn’t power per se, although she could certainly summon enough steel when she needed to. Neither was it pureness, even though her voice had a distinct fragile, crystalline quality. It wasn’t exactly a sweetness or a roughness or an earthiness. It was somehow all of these qualities at once, her voice modulating effortlessly between subtle emotional nuances. Megan’s voice melted hearts. It seemed to resonate with everyone’s different frequencies at once – as if she was able to set a myriad tuning forks vibrating simultaneously. As if she could bypass the sense filter and mainline straight into the bloodstream. Meanwhile, her fingers struck the piano keys with a sureness and deftness that Griffon could only dream of matching on his own instrument. Megan had the X factor in spades. And no matter what happened, she always managed to surf the waves that threatened to drown other performers. Griffon recalled an acapella set one night that had floored the audience after the bar’s keyboard had been inexplicably loaned out for the evening. A sore throat only added an alluring huskiness to her voice. And Megan had just the right putdown to subdue the occasional heckler: ‘Look at the tits on her.’ ‘Yeah, and they’re not the only tits in here tonight, mate!’
The bar was slowly filling up. It was time for Griffon to go on.